Casting yourself in the role of victim in your inner world and in your public persona is a straight shot to pain, disappointment and ineffectiveness. This misguided approach marginalizes your ability to live a fruitful, powerful and rewarding existence. It restricts your options, blocks your ability to make your goals and dreams come true and can weaken your confidence in yourself. Believing you are a victim and acting like one can have seriously negative effects on your relationships. Think for a moment about how people who immerse themselves in the victim role are not much fun to be around!
Martin Seligman, the world-renowned Positive Psychologist, explains that "victimology" -- blaming our problems on other people and circumstances -- is directly related to the concept of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is a well-documented phenomenon in which an individual does not believe that his/her actions matter in terms of how things turn out. The victim role is a form of self-pity. The Scottish philosopher Dr. Megan Reik explains, "There are few human emotions as warm, comforting and enveloping as self-pity. And nothing is more corrosive and destructive. There is only one answer; turn away from it and move on."
Are you are caught in this trap? If so, extricating yourself might just well be one of the healthiest changes you'll ever make. It is not only your right, but more importantly your responsibility, to decide if the victim role serves you or imprisons you. In my experience as a psychologist working with many clients, the victim role is a form of psychological paralysis.
No matter who or what has "done you wrong," it will not bring you psychological health and self-confidence to espouse the victim mentality. By definition, a victim is one who has been injured, destroyed, tricked, duped or given a raw deal; and even if you have experienced something devastating and/or patently unfair, this approach is absolutely not a viable solution.
Victims are often poisoned by resentment of others and self-denigration. If you have been seriously abused and cannot get past your injuries, I would recommend you seek professional help. This can be tough territory to go alone. Otherwise, get past it by looking at it from the power point. Power comes from letting these things go.
How do people get seduced by the victim role? I can think of some ways. There may be increased attention from others who feel sorry for the self-anointed victim. Or feeling like a victim might serve as an excuse to avoid some circumstance that evokes fear or that is regarded as distasteful. Or perhaps, ensconcing oneself in this role is a way to feel special. Whatever the reason, it leads me to believe that we bipedal primates of the species, Homo sapiens, sometimes use our high-powered brains to "snooker" ourselves!
The victim role is yet another example of thoughts and beliefs gone amok. Just as in the other types of destructive self-talk, identify the thoughts, beliefs and expectations that are faulty, then counter them with an empowering, non-reactive discourse. Identify instances in your thinking and imagery in which you have ordained yourself the dreaded victim. Use distraction techniques, such as thought stopping, to reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of your misguided thinking and disputing techniques to challenge these clearly counterproductive thoughts and images. Develop visual imagery and a dialogue in which you are powerful, determined, brave and successful.
You can find more information on this subject in my book on Positive Psychology, It's Your Little Red Wagon... Six Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life (Embrace the Power of Positive Psychology and Live Your Dreams), available on Amazon.com.
Seligman, M., (2002) Authentic Happiness The Free Press. New York, New York
Copyright 2009. Sharon S. Esonis, Ph.D.
Sharon S. Esonis, Ph.D., has spent close to three decades helping individuals thrive and improve their lives through her work as a licensed psychologist, author and life coach. An expert in human behavior and motivation, Dr. Esonis specializes in the burgeoning field of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of optimal human functioning and the core strengths that can lead to the achievement of one's personally-defined goals.
Her most recent book, "It's Your Little Red Wagon... 6 Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life (Embrace the Power of Positive Psychology and Live Your Dreams!)," is Dr. Esonis's contribution to the field of Positive Psychology, presenting proven success factors and strength-building techniques that can lead individuals to a life of purpose, motivation and happiness. It is available on Amazon.com.
Dr. Esonis earned her doctoral degree at Boston College and currently is a Positive Psychology Coach in the San Diego area. She also teaches Positive Psychology in the Extended Learning Program at California State University San Marcos. To learn more to order her latest book, visit her website at PositivePathLifeCoaching.com.